Gemma Stanley’s first direct brush with ellenor – beyond living down the road, and seeing our vans go by daily – came when her nan was referred to us for end-of-life care.
Several years later, Gemma’s relationship with ellenor continued, when her mum, Elaine, won £2,500 playing our Grand Prize Draw in 2011.
Fast forward to 2020, and fate would bring Gemma and ellenor together again. But this time, it was in heart-wrenching circumstances. Gemma’s daughter Isla, then just four years old, was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in her kidneys.
“It was absolutely devastating,” says Gemma. “Cancer is never something you think your child is going to get. It was terrifying.”
Isla also has Gorlin syndrome, having been diagnosed as a two-year-old. Caused by a chromosome deletion, it’s a rare disorder that causes developmental delays and skeletal abnormalities. Gorlin syndrome increases Isla’s risk of certain cancers – but not kidney cancer. So the diagnosis still came as a cruel, unexpected shock.
An intensive 27-week course of chemotherapy followed. During this time, ellenor stepped in to provide vital medical care, as well as support the Stanley family in other ways. But at first, Gemma was wary. Despite decades of familiarity with ellenor, Gemma heard the word ‘hospice’ – and panicked.
“When I heard ‘hospice’”, Gemma explains, “I immediately thought ‘end of life’ and ‘terminal’. I got scared. But then, ellenor explained that there’s a whole Children’s team – nurses dedicated to looking after young people, from the patients’ own homes in the community. When you get your head around the idea, and realise all the other services ellenor offers beyond end-of-life care, it feels completely normal.”
Every week, ellenor’s nurses visit the Stanley home to change Isla’s dressings, take blood samples, and provide line care. All to an…appreciative audience.
“Isla has gotten to know ellenor’s nurses. When they come in, she knows what’s going to happen, and lets them provide the care. She recognises them, and smiles at them. And, once they’re finished, Isla sits up and claps. The nurses always give her a sticker to say well done.
“The nurses are so sweet. If we ever end up in hospital, or Isla is poorly, they text me to ask if there’s anything they can do to help. They do the medical stuff, but they’re also there for a nice chat; to see Isla. They make a fuss of Isla’s sister, Brooke. They’re such a lovely team.”
Beyond the medical interventions, ellenor also supplied invitations – to its regular family days. Between pumpkin picking at a local patch to the entrancing stagecraft of Aladdin at the pantomime, there’s been plenty of family fun.
“ellenor is always there – as medical and mental support. Pumpkin picking is something most people do every October. But for a family going through cancer – and for a child who’s been in treatment for two years, and not been able to see anyone because of COVID-19 – it means the world.
“For ellenor to arrange an event that you know will be lower numbers, with a medical team on hand for emergencies, is so reassuring. You and your child can interact, and they don’t have to miss out on the things that every other child is doing.”